South Africa set Australia 539 victory target

Innings end South Africa 242 and 8 for 540 dec (Duminy 141, Elgar 127, Philander 73, de Kock 64) lead Australia 244 by 538 runs
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Quinton de Kock scored his fourth consecutive Test half-century © Getty Images

Australia will need to rewrite Test history by chasing down 539 if they are to win at the WACA, after South Africa delayed their declaration until after lunch on the fourth day. Quinton de Kock and Vernon Philander both scored half-centuries as captain Faf du Plessis kept Australia in the field in the Perth heat, perhaps wary of the fact that he will be without injured strike bowler Dale Steyn in Australia’s chase.

South Africa had been 7 for 508 at lunch and added another 32 after the break before the declaration came on 8 for 540, at the fall of the wicket of Philander. On 73, Philander took a lusty swing at the legspin of Australia’s captain Steven Smith, who did not bowl until the 159th over of the innings, and was bowled. Keshav Maharaj remained unbeaten on 41 from 34 deliveries, having struck three sixes off Nathan Lyon.

Everything would need to fall perfectly for Australia to pull an almost impossible heist. Only once in Test history has any team scored more than 500 in the fourth innings, and even that did not result in a win, for England’s 654 for 5 in the infamous timeless Test of 1939 came in pursuit of 696. The highest successful chase in Test history was the 418 scored by West Indies against Australia in Antigua in 2003, and Austraia’s highest was 404 back in 1948.

If there is one thing that might give Australia some encouragement, apart from Steyn’s absence, it is that the second-highest successful chase in Test history came at this very ground eight years ago, when South Africa reached 414 with only four wickets down. And the surface, as shown by South Africa’s batsmen over the past couple of days, remains reasonable for batting, despite the presence of a few cracks and the odd ball staying low or rearing up.

The only wicket to fall during the opening session was that of de Kock, who for the fourth consecutive innings in Test cricket passed fifty. He was eventually out for 64 off 100 balls when he drove a catch to short cover off Mitchell Marsh, ending a 116-run partnership with Philander for the seventh wicket.

It had been a frustrating session for the Australians, who twice had de Kock given out only to have those decisions rightly overturned on review, while Philander was put down on 29. Philander top-edged a hook off Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, running around at fine leg, seemed uncertain of where the boundary rope was, and this distraction left him in an awkward position to take a catch that should have been more comfortable. The ball parried over the boundary for six.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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